Today, Michael and Mark are discussing Batgirl Annual 3, originally released July 29th, 2015.
Michael: I don’t know if the concept of “Annual” comic book really has a true characterization. Sometimes it’s just a giant-sized issue of an ongoing story. Other times it’s a semi-audition for up and coming writers to get their feet wet. Then there are annuals like to jam-pack the issue with as much muchness as possible. Batgirl Annual 3 is the much muchness example.
Batgirl Annual 3 is a cavalcade of guest stars from the Batverse. After rescuing a very confused diplomat, Batgirl finds herself on the trail of a terrorist organization known as Gladius. The first round of Bat-cameos are from Grayson stars Helena Bertinelli and Dick Grayson. After getting dangerously close to Batgirl realizing who Dick is under his hypno-mask disguise, Babs gives some brief tutelage to Spoiler. Ming Doyle tries to channel the creepier aesthetic of a Batwoman story when she teams up with Batgirl before we go full–on Gotham Academy with Mingjue Helen Chen.
At its core, the plot of Batgirl Annual 3 is fairly simple: make sure the evil organization (Gladius) doesn’t get the dangerous McGuffinish WMD (The Negehedron.) Brenden Fletcher and Cameron Stewart take that plot and make it a flimsy through-line so Batgirl can play a game of “who’s who in Gotham.” I think that superhero team-ups can be problematic in nature. Series writers Fletcher and Stewart have to make Babs share the spotlight with her guest-stars while still trying to push their ongoing narrative; can’t let the guest-star overpower her overall story, right? Batgirl Annual 3 tries to strike this balance not once but four times altogether.
Besides the Grayson crossover, the other Batgirl team-ups didn’t really provide much of a message besides “Batgirl can be a team player” and “Batgirl is inspiring.” Don’t get me wrong, those are valuable messages – they just feel oddly shoe-horned in here. I think that a Batgirl/Gotham Academy story is totally warranted, but is wasted as an add-on. Same thing for Babs mentoring Stephanie Brown, which made me nostalgic for the pre-New 52 Batgirl. And what exactly was the cut-off for cameos anyway? Why don’t we see any Damian Wayne action here? Or remember how Batman Eternal started to ship Batgirl and Jason Todd? What about that? And Tim Drake gets no love these days so I’m not surprised his feathery ass didn’t show up.
I know I wasn’t the only person who was tantalized by the possibility that Barbara Gordon and Dick Grayson might reunite as the cover suggested. Similarly I’m sure that other readers were likewise disappointed that that reunion never happened. Stewart and Fletcher’s script played to the genre strengths of Grayson, strengthened by Bengal’s pencil work. So it was clearly intentionally cheeky how our former lovebirds came so close to reconvening, but never actually did. Kudos to the creative team for continuing the running joke that Dick Grayson has a booty that is world-famous and easy to spot. And I will try to keep this brief, but it has always annoyed me how the Bat-books handled Dick’s “death.” Like, WE knew he wasn’t dead but we didn’t get the same reaction from characters that we got when Damian died – and we knew he’d eventually come back too. I just feel that Barbara Gordon would show a teeny bit more emotion when she thinks she sees Dick (via his booty.) Instead we have this “duh-doy! Dick’s dead you stupid Barbara!” moment that rubbed me the wrong way. Here endeth my “dead” Dick Grayson tangent.
I finished reading this book not completely understanding what the hell Gladius was doing. According to Helena, Gladius is all about “Peace through power,” which I guess translates into retrieving government secrets through mind control, blueprints and good old-fashioned Wicker Man effigies. Seriously though, what the hell was up with that Wicker Man thing? Does every case Batwoman touches get infected with supernatural gothic horror? I genuinely thought that the Gladius leader was Flashpoint Wonder Woman with that weird golden crown helmet thing. After Babs teamed up with the Gotham Academy kids and took down Gladius, the story just kind of ends. I don’t know what else I was expecting really – they caught the bad guy after all. I think I just finished the book and asked myself: “What did I just read?” Batgirl Annual 3 feels like it adds something to the overall Fletcher/Stewart Batgirl story while simultaneously adding nothing at all.
Mark, my boy, how did you fancy this issue? Were you as pleased with the Grayson-y parts of the issue as I was? Was it childish to hope for an actual reunion between our star-crossed lovers? How do you feel about Wicker Man effigies?
Mark: The original Wicker Man is one of the creepiest movies I’ve ever seen, but what a giant effigy is doing here other than being a dynamic image is a complete mystery to me. Batgirl Annual 3 in general feels superfluous. It’s the comic book equivalent of serialized newspaper comic Sunday strip. It’s big and glossy (and in full color!), but since not everyone will read it it’s pretty divorced from Batgirl‘s main story arc. Are there any lasting ramifications here for Batgirl at all?
The Grayson story didn’t irk me like it did you, Michael, but I agree the way his death has been handled is sometimes irritating. I’m sure it was explained at some point, but I can’t really remember why the Bat-family isn’t supposed to know Grayson is alive. Is it for their protection? Grayson’s protection? Because plenty of people seem to know he’s alive (even Lex Luthor!), but the charade continues. But overall I thought it was the strongest of the bits here. For me, it was Batgirl’s run in with Spoiler that rang most false. Spoiler here is depicted as kind of a klutz and a doofus, but that feels pretty out of character compared with everything we’ve seen since her reintroduction to DC canon in Batman Eternal. I guess there’s room for artistic license when it comes to a character’s portrayal, but her actions here don’t track at all with the capable, smart character we’ve seen so far.
An encounter that totally tracks with the character’s current state (i.e. completely listless) is Batgirl’s “adventure” with Batwoman. What a complete waste of space that is. Yes, the aforementioned Wicker Man is baffling (if not cool looking), but what’s even the point? I guess Stewart and Fletcher are checking the box and including as many female characters in the Batman family as they can, but it’s a real testament to the sorry, sorry state Batwoman as a character is in right now that she’s a complete non-entity here.
Maybe Gladius will feature in future Batgirl stories, or maybe this is all we’ll see of them. Annuals can be a fun breather from the arc of the main series, and overall Batgirl Annual 3 succeeds at giving us a few fun tales starring Barbara Gordon.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?